IDENTITY POLITICS

Kenya will propose a law to force people to use their real names on social media

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Quartz africa
Obsession
The Next Billion
Quartz africa

Kenya will soon consider legislation that prohibits the use of fake names on social media accounts. The Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), the government body that regulates all visual media in the country, said a bill will be in parliament by the end of June. It has already received support from some lawmakers.

The film board’s chief executive, Ezekiel Mutua, didn’t explain how the policy would be enforced, but noted “when users commit a crime using a social media account, we should be able to identify them.”

Mutua, a controversial figure in Kenya, has previously been called Kenya’s censor-in-chief, a self-appointed “morality policeman” accused of overstepping his mandate. As the head of the KFCB, he banned advertisements featuring alcoholic drinks, betting, and gambling from running between 5am and 10pm. The film board also forced Coca-Cola to remove a kissing scene from a TV ad because it violated “family values,” banned musicians using obscene stage names, and warned that the introduction of Netflix to Kenya last year was a threat to the country’s “moral values and national security.”

In early January, the KFCB introduced a proposal that would expand its mandate, so it would not only regulate film stage and productions but online content as well. The move caused an uproar in the media and creative industries.

The move to ban pseudonyms on social media comes three months before Kenya heads to the polls. As more and more Kenyans use outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp to receive and share political news (pdf), the spread of hate speech has been a concern among officials. More than 1,200 people were killed following contested elections in 2007, and attempt to stoke ethnic violence spread rapidly on social media ahead of the 2013 elections.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission, which was formed to ease ethnic tensions after the 2007 elections, has warned that “social media bandits” could use online tools to incite violence ahead of this year’s elections. The broader effect on free speech that could result from forcing all social media users to register with their real names is also worrying.

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